From taking an EKG reading to measuring your blood pressure, Samsung’s Galaxy Watch range can do a lot more than most other Wear OS devices. But there’s a big catch: you can’t use these features without a Samsung smartphone. This is not just a one-off; it’s the same story everywhere in the Samsung ecosystem.
Take Samsung’s Buds, for example. Features such as 360 Audio and the patented Scalable audio codec are exclusive to Samsung smartphones. The list also extends to software – Samsung Pay no longer works on third-party Android smartphones, nor can you track a SmartTag on non-Galaxy devices.
Samsung has built an Android ecosystem that is so compelling that it’s hard to switch once you’ve entered it.
Given how seamless the Samsung ecosystem has become, I believe it serves as a solid blueprint for Google to follow with the upcoming Pixel Watch and Pixel Tablet, at least in part. For the first time in years, Google has a hardware portfolio closer to what Apple and Samsung have to offer. But while the Pixel smartphone series is revered for its imaging capabilities, the success of these emerging form factors depends entirely on Google’s ability to build a cohesive ecosystem. This is why.
Samsung’s ecosystem: a blueprint for Google?
Adam Birney / Android Authority
Samsung’s focus on building an ecosystem may have taken years, but the strategy is now paying off. When faced with the prospect of losing functionality, existing owners are unlikely to switch to a competing smartphone maker, let alone a completely different operating system. After all, we have seen how Apple gained market share from iPhone with iMessage.
Samsung’s robust ecosystem comes at the cost of Android’s interoperability.
Skepticism aside, Samsung’s disdain for interoperability has allowed for custom experiences to be created. In fact, you won’t find many of these features anywhere else in the Android space. For example, the Continue apps feature provides Apple-like Handoff functionality for voice calls, messages, notes, and browser tabs across devices. Samsung even has its own version of Universal Control that lets you control your tablet and phone with a laptop keyboard and trackpad. Google should take notes about the increasing depth of Samsung’s integrations.
However, if the Galaxy ecosystem doesn’t appeal to you, you’ll be happy to know that competition is on the way. Thanks to Google’s renewed interest in tablets and other form factors, we’re starting to see ecosystem features trickle down to Android. Android 13 will soon allow you to stream chat apps to Chrome OS. Google is also working on a feature that will allow you to share your clipboard between different Android devices.
With Android 13, Google has laid the foundation for a cross-device ecosystem.
Ecosystem features go beyond just software tricks, but Google also has a chance in the hardware race. For example, while Samsung is counting on its limited SmartThings ecosystem, Google Home supports just about every smart home brand under the sun.
Imagine if your smartwatch could turn off your television and lights when it detects you’ve fallen asleep. Samsung already offers such functionality on the Galaxy Watch 5, but only if you also own a SmartThings device. There’s no real reason why Google can’t bring a similar feature to the Pixel Watch. With Google’s vast network of connected brands, such a feature would be useful to a much wider audience.
Related: The Pixel Watch can’t succeed if Google reuses the same 8-year-old formula
In that vein, Google could also use its machine learning expertise to make the Android ecosystem more personal and predictive. We know that the company has been experimenting with popping up intelligent suggestions on the Android lock screen, only to abandon it at some point. A smartwatch with half a dozen sensors could go a long way toward improving the accuracy of such predictions. Failing that, even popping up loyalty cards and payment methods through Google Wallet based on your current location would be a big convenience gain. The pieces are there, Google just needs to put them together.
A Google ecosystem for some or harmony for all?
While the prospect of a Google-centric ecosystem looks promising, the company shouldn’t follow Apple’s and Samsung’s exclusivity formula literally. Even if Google’s hardware market share wasn’t eclipsed by other Android OEMs, it also has a responsibility to upgrade the operating system every year. In other words, it should bring the benefits of its ecosystem to non-Pixel devices as well.
While former Pixel-exclusive features like Fast Pair eventually made their way to Android, these migrations have become quite rare. It’s also unclear whether the current exclusive features, such as text extraction from the Recents menu and real-time dictation, will be ported more widely to devices.
The Pixel series gets exclusive software features every year, but few ever make their way to Android.
It doesn’t help that existing apps and services are showing signs of neglect. For example, the Google Fit platform hasn’t changed much over the years, other than an occasional visual overhaul. It may be for this reason that the upcoming Pixel Watch will feature “deep Fitbit integration.” Google Fit will reportedly coexist for now, likely for users of other Wear OS devices. However, the Fitbit features are likely to remain exclusive to the Pixel Watch and are a major draw for potential customers.
Whether feature exclusivity should be the future of Android and Wear OS may be a discussion for another day. For now, it’s clear that Google needs to strike a careful balance between creating a compelling ecosystem for Pixel enthusiasts and upgrading the stock Android experience for everyone else. Samsung’s feature lock-in has undoubtedly dealt a blow to Android’s interoperability, and while Google should draw inspiration from Samsung’s ecosystem, it should also restore that balance.
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